At the end of March, two of Eastin's friends came to visit us in Memphis to celebrate their graduation from elementary school. They got to see a NBA Grizzlies Game, ride a tractor and horses, sleep in a tent, and...something they could never do in Japan...shoot a rifle!
On a hill overlooking the town of Otsuchi in Iwate, there sits an old-fashioned glass-paneled white phone booth. Inside, an old black rotary phone lies on a wooden shelf, connected to nothing.
Itaru Sasaki placed this phone in the middle of a beautiful garden he designed with trees and flowers, ornamented with a goldfish pond, a bridge, a statue, a bench, and a nearby stone cabin he built for reading and meditation. “My thoughts could not go over regular phone lines,” Mr. Sasaki said. “So I wanted them to be carried on the wind.”1
Mr. Sasaki created the “Telephone of the Wind” to help his own grieving process with a lost family member, but the very next year, the tsunami came which took the lives of thousands of people in the surrounding coastal areas. The telephone booth became a special place where people would talk to lost family and friends. A notebook by the phone provides a place to write what is hard to say. A sign directs people to listen to the sound of the wind, ocean, and birds. It helps them process their grief and pain, and to say goodbye.
This phone became one of the most famous visual pictures of grief along the tsunami-struck coast of Japan. When I went and visited it first hand, I found it to be a beautiful symbol of prayer, a prayer room in the middle of a large prayer garden. It reminded me of the Holy Spirit.
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
Wind blows our hair and brushes our skin. We cannot see it, but we can feel it moving. We see the effect of the wind which lets us know that it is there. In the same way, we cannot see the Holy Spirit, but we can feel the Spirit and see the effect of the Spirit in the lives of others.
Visitors to the Telephone of the Wind may not be praying to the God of the Bible, but as a Christian, I can see their prayers of lament through the lens of faith. Where is God in our grief? The Holy Spirit is the great comforter who is always present. We are always in the presence of God and able to talk with him, even though we cannot see him. The Holy Spirit is always there to hear our calls of pain and loss.
The wind reminds us that the Holy Spirit is always near, especially in our pain.
1 This American Life, Episode 597: “One last thing Before I Go.” September 23, 2016. This story first appeared on a television broadcast by NHK Sendai.